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Tomato Chef's Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award WinnerTomato Chef’s Choice Pink F1 Beefsteak, 2015 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

The request I got was what are the best cherry, the best heirloom, the best standard and the best beefsteak to grow in our area?! Quite reasonable query.

Santa Barbara has such a range of zones! And, if you ask 5 gardeners they will have 5 answers! That’s my experience gardening at a community garden.

Best depends on WHEN you plant. If you plant early, you want ‘early’ producers that are more cold tolerant, the smaller varieties. A month later you can go for the bigger toms. Beefsteaks don’t do well on the Westside unless you have a hotspot. Gardeners at the Terrace don’t get the best results with them. They take too long to mature and often don’t get big like a beef steak should, take forever to redden, thus, low production.

Best depends on whether your soil has Verticillium or Fusarium wilts, which the Terrace does. And the wilts are wind borne as well as soil/water splash spread. Heirlooms generally have little resistance and die first at our garden. And whether heirlooms do well has a lot to do with what the gardener does with their soil and whether they help them out weekly/biweekly with an immune building foliar spray like the mix of powdered milk and aspirin. Soil needs worm castings, that help with the immune system, and at transplant time mycorrhizae fungi sprinkled on their roots for greater uptake of nutrients and water. Best for us are tomatoes that have VFN on their tags ~ Verticillium, Fusarium, Nematodes resistance. Resistance is exactly what it means. The plants do die sooner or later from the disease no matter how much you do, feed, spray, treat.

How the gardener plants tomatoes makes a difference. Up on a mound with a basin on top. Top that with a 1/2″ of compost, cover that with 1″ of straw to let in air and sun to dry the soil but keep the leaves from touching the soil. Touching the soil is the main way toms get the wilts. Lower leaves that might touch soil when weighted with dew or by watering need to be removed ASAP.

The wilts can’t be stopped. Sooner or later the plant leaves curl lengthwise, get dark spots, turn brown, hang sadly. Plants can produce but it’s agonizing to watch. Sometimes they somewhat recover later in the season after almost looking totally dead. I think the summer heat drys the soil and kills enough of the fungi for the plant to be able to try again. When we think it is dead, we water it less. It’s better to water near a tomato, not right at its roots. It has a deep tap root and will find water from water you give to neighboring plants.

The best of each? Cherry, heirloom, standard, beefsteak? I believe often it is totally gardener preference. If they love that variety, they will pamper it like a baby and it grows and produces like crazy! Some gardeners love Lemon Boys that are practically tasteless to me. Some gardeners like a mushy almost grainy texture. Some gardeners far prefer taste to quantity of production. I personally don’t find heirlooms to be anymore tasty than the toms I choose, though I do love their color variations and odd shapes! I’ve chosen toms just because I like their name. And I don’t recommend doing that, LOL! Some plant that variety because that’s what their family planted, sentimental, and they swear it tastes better too! Genes, you know.

Other than that, if you want to get technical, AAS Winners are a total best bet! All America Selections is a non profit of 80 years standing! The 2014 tomato winner was a yummy looking orange heirloom! They are selected each year from the best that are produced, proven producers, disease and pest tolerance/resistance. Obviously color, size, taste and texture are personal choices and best becomes a moot point. I do a little of both. I primarily pick VFNs and let myself ‘experiment’ from time to time, and let at least one volunteer live out of pure curiosity! LOL

Mother Earth News has a great collection of gardener tomato variety preferences cross country. Check it out! For the Southwest, Sungold and other cherry tomatoes are the popular, practical choice. Those of us more coastal are very lucky to have a greater range of choice.

A technical point is some varieties of tomatoes are far better for tomato grafting than others.

So, best depends on best for what, when, where and who! Personal taste, soil conditions, when you plant, where you plant. A windless hot spot with lots of light even in a cool neighborhood works well so you have more choices of varieties that will succeed.

HEAT TOLERANT VARIETIES! Many plants start shutting down, dropping flowers, baby fruits, at about 85 degrees. But, like Rattlesnake green beans that produce wonderfully in temps up to 100 degrees, there are some terrific tomatoes that keep right on producing! Look at successful varieties grown in hot inland California, southern and desert areas to see their choices, not just in the US, but places like Israel too. In this SoCal drought heat, I highly recommend you take a good look at nursery tags! Query a knowledgeable nursery person if in doubt, and double check that variety online before you purchase. Best choices from now on, in the warmer winter and hotter California summers, needs to include heat tolerance! Key words in heat tolerant tomato names are heat, solar, fire, sun!

GardenWeb has some great discussions from around the country on heat tolerant varieties and gardener tips of all kinds! Best heat resistant tomato varieties? – GardenWeb

Happy Tasty Tomatoes to You!

 

 

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Mesa Harmony Garden Volunteer Planting & Maintenance
First Saturday of every month between 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., July 2
Bring shovels, wheel barrows, picks, etc. and a friend!

Sunday July 10 FREE DAY at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden!
YouTube link  Celebrating 85 years, perfect for summer guests!

Fairview Gardens, Urban Homesteading, Preserving the Harvest!

Beautiful image is header at SBCanning!

These 3 classes are taught by our Westsider list member, Certified Master Food Preserver, Cindy Shipp!  Sign up in advance for all these tasty classes!

All the classes will be hands on demonstrations of either water bath or pressure canning techniques. Every class will take home a jar of the recipes we make. For more information, or to sign up for these great classes, go to: http://www.fairviewgardens.org/PreservingtheHarvest.htm

July 23 Preserving the Harvest #1 9 am to 12 pm $40
August 20 Preserving the Harvest #2 9 am to 12 pm $40
September 17 Preserving the Harvest #3 9 am to 12 pm $40

International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC10, will be held in Jordan across September 2011.  The theme is “Plan Jordan ~ Water”. http://www.ipcon.org/  The biennial International Permaculture Conference is the world’s premier permaculture gathering. Don’t miss it!

Enjoy!  Ride your bike or walk to these events when you can! 

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They really are, aren’t they?! The most common summer veggie question I get asked is, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes?’ So here are reminders, tips to keep your plants healthy and in strong production!

In areas with wilts in the soil, plant only toms that have resistance or tolerance to the wilts; avoid heirlooms. Jetsetter, an early season tom, is grand. Click here for a list of excellent varieties! 

If you have the wilts or blights in your soil 1) Do not pinch out the suckers (the little branches between a big branch and the main stem) as your plant grows because that makes wounds where the airborne fungi can enter your plant.  2) Right from the beginning, pinch off lower branches that would touch soil, or will when they are weighted with dew, water. When your plants get taller, DO promptly prune off lower branches that water having soil borne fungi could splash onto. This is obviously a trade off – no splash on leaves versus wounds open to wind borne fungi. Lay on only an inch of straw to avoid splash and let the soil breathe and dry between waterings.

Do not let plants touch each other and spread the wilts. Remove branches when they get near enough to touch.

Make a special planting basin for tomatoes and cucumbers. Make the base of the basin above the surrounding soil level. We want drainage and some drying to make your soil unfriendly to the fungi.
Special Soil Berm Basin Level for Tomatoes and Cucumbers
When your plant gets about a foot tall, water plants near your tomato but not at its central stem. It has a good deep root and can get water below the fungi zone. Some people simply dry farm toms, especially when they start producing, saying that makes the flavor more intense.

This all said, keep your nearby soil evenly moist. It avoids blossom-end rot.

Rap the tom cage or trellis, central stem, sharply, middayish, to increase pollination! Honey bees do not pollinate tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant or blueberries, but bumble bees DO! They do buzz pollination, called sonification! When you rap the stems, you are helping pollination the same way the bumble bees do! About 11 AM is the best time of day to do it. The flowers are warm and open. Not only do you get more tomatoes, but they are the right shape! More pollination makes more seeds. Plant plenty of flowering plants for pollinators! If you don’t mind less tomatoes, and want less seeds, let nature take its course – no rapping.

Please see all about buzz pollination in Sue Rosenthal’s post at Bay Nature! And Bumblebees can harvest pollen from flowers 400 times faster than honey bees can!
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Temps are crucial!  Tomatoes are not happy when there are

High daytime temperatures (above 85° F)
High Nighttime Temperatures (above 70° F)
Low Nighttime Temperatures (below 55° F)

True, tomatoes are heat lovers, but per the University of NV, temperatures over 104° F, for only four hours, the flowers abort! Your plant goes into survival mode, stops production. Why wait when it gets HOT and your tomato stops setting fruit?! Get heat tolerant varieties! Check out this nifty page of options at Bonnie Plants! Plant “heat set” varieties like Florasette, Heat Wave, Solar Set, Sunchaser, Sunmaster, Sunpride, Surfire. If you didn’t plant a heat tolerant variety, don’t think is a quitter and pull it. When things cool down, it will start making flowers and setting fruit again. Whew!

High nighttime temps are even worse than high daytime temperatures because your plant never gets to rest.

Conversely, in the spring, wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55° F or protect them with a cover at night. Choose early maturing varieties like Early Girl, Legend, Matina, Oregon Spring, Polar Baby, Silvery Fir Tree, Jetsetter.

‘Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes. What would life be like without home grown tomatoes? Only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.’  – John Denver

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The Green Bean Connection newsletter started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, then became this blog too! All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic!

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